ECU Logo

Martin D. Peebles

CSS RALEIGH: THE HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY OF A CIVIL WAR IRONCLAD IN THE CAPE FEAR RIVER.

(Under the direction of Professor Gordon P. Watts) Department of History, March 1996.

This thesis is an historical and archaeological account of the Confederate ironclad CSS Raleigh, which after an overnight engagement with the Union blockade, was lost in the Cape Fear River in 1864.  The ironclad was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, but a comprehensive study of the vessel's history and archaeological integrity was never made.  Historically, nothing remains in the way of builder's plans or written specifications for this particular ironclad.  Personal accounts associated with the design and construction of the vessel are also scarce.  The Raleigh has been given cursory mention in a number of secondary works.  None of them elaborate on the reasons for Flag Officer William Lynch's attack on the Federal squadron, or the circumstances of the ironclad's loss.

Fortunately, the Raleigh belonged to a class of vessels that characterized Confederate ironclad design after the Battle of Hampton Roads (March 1862), in which the USS Monitor fought CSS Virginia.  Complimentary information on ironclads like the Raleigh includes builder's plans, engineering plans, a few written specifications and some visual material.  Only a few naval historians have elaborated on the construction and service of Confederate ironclads.  Even in the most extensive and scholarly works, accounts of the Raleigh are relatively brief (William N. Still, Iron Afloat; Robert Holcomb, Evolution of Confederate Ironclad Design).  These two works, and a few others, present the broad scope of ironclad development of which the Raleigh was an integral part.

Meanwhile, the wreck of the Raleigh comprises one of the most extensive bodies of information on the most popular form of Confederate ironclad design.  Archaeological examinations in 1993 and 1994 contributed some important findings to the historical record.  The most valuable find was in assessing how much more information can be gained from future investigations.  Hence this thesis starts on a broad historical perspective of ironclad development, before narrowing to a focus on activities in Wilmington, and finally to an archaeological assessment of the Raleigh's present remans.